Sky’s Lexie Brown to play in Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural season

Athletes Unlimited’s 44-player roster includes Ty Young, Jantel Lavender, Kelsey Mitchell, Natasha Cloud and Sydney Colson. The six-week, 30-game season tips off Jan. 26 at the Sports Center of Las Vegas.

SHARE Sky’s Lexie Brown to play in Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural season
The Sky’s Lexie Brown will be among the WNBA players participating in Athletes Unlimited inaugural season.

The Sky’s Lexie Brown will be among the WNBA players participating in Athletes Unlimited inaugural season.

Matt Marton/AP

Before the 2021 WNBA season began, Lexie Brown was already planning how she’d spend her offseason.

At this time last year, Athletes Unlimited was in the beginning stages of organizing its inaugural basketball season and Brown was heavily involved in those conversations. The idea of an opportunity to stay stateside and play competitive basketball with some of the WNBA’s best was intriguing to her.

But, her fourth year in the WNBA provided little stability, so she pivoted.

“I didn’t know if I was going to have a job during the summer,” Brown said. “So, I began preparing to go overseas.”

Brown was waived by the Minnesota Lynx a day before reporting to training camp and was with the Sky days later. Even though Sky coach/general manager James Wade brought her in for camp, there wasn’t a solidified roster spot for her, yet.

The first month of the 2021 season Brown spent signing short-term contracts with the Sky and getting waived. This unstable cycle is a symptom of a larger problem in the WNBA, lack of opportunity. With just 144 roster spots between 12 teams, a much-needed increase in base salaries without a salary cap increase to match it, many general managers are left playing roster gymnastics throughout the season.

For players like Brown, this process is all too familiar.

By the middle of June Brown had signed a rest of season contract, but on the Sky’s roster with a deep, talented pool of guards her playing time was limited. In 17 games played for the Sky, she averaged 1.6 points and 1.1 assists in just 9.5 minutes per game.

Her plan to play overseas was further solidified.

“The biggest thing in the WNBA is what have you done lately,” Brown said.

Brown’s goal playing in France was to raise her WNBA stock and further prove herself as a two-way guard.

Her stats skyrocketed in France. She led her team and league in scoring averaging 21.3 points per game and added 3.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.8 steals. In December, Brown reevaluated her plans and made the decision to cut her overseas season short and return for Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural basketball season.

The factors that played a large part in Brown’s decision were the comfort of playing at home and all the career aspirations she has for herself off the court. Brown has pulled a lot of inspiration from Sky teammate, two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker. Among the lessons she’s learned from Parker’s career on and off the court is the fact that you need time to invest in your career beyond basketball.

Athletes Unlimited provides Brown with the time to expand her career and partner with a nonprofit. The partnership includes Athletes Unlimited matching a portion of her earnings and donating it to the nonprofit of her choice. Brown chose to partner with Girl Rising.

Athletes Unlimited’s 44-player roster includes Ty Young, Jantel Lavender, Kelsey Mitchell, Natasha Cloud and Sydney Colson. The six-week, 30-game season tips off Jan. 26 at the Sports Center of Las Vegas.

This time of year is the most stressful for Brown because of all of the unknowns. Wade sent out a qualifying offer to her on Jan. 2 which she said provides some security. Brown hasn’t had a conversation with him about being a key player in the franchise’s future.

The comfort that comes with knowing she’s part of a team’s future is what Brown is working toward and Athletes Unlimited is the route she’s taking to get there.

“Overseas I was playing once a week, that was it,” Brown said. “The competition is going to be different, but playing 15 games in six weeks, having fun, being in a good space mentally and being able to do some good off the court. It was a no-brainer for me.”

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